Thing 13: Making information beautiful


Photo credit: Chris Kennedy: CC BY 2.0

This is a new ‘thing’ for us, representing the data-driven direction in which many of our outputs are taking. We’ll explore some simple tools for visualization of information.

Getting started

Google Public Data Explorer
Google Public Data Explorer is a tool developed by Google Labs that makes large datasets easy to explore, visualize and understand. It offers a simple way of generating different views and graphs (e.g. bar charts, line graphs, etc.) to better understand and present data.

Currently a range of public data from organizations and academic institutions—including US Bureau of Labor Statistics, Eurostat, Statistics Iceland, etc.—are available for users to explore interactively. You can also upload your own datasets, using the Dataset Publishing Language (DSPL) format, to Google Public Data Explorer for visualisation and exploration.

It is important to note that you will NOT be able to export data, only manipulate them within the Google Data Explorer environment. However, you can embed the data as part of a website or email the link to someone else. The tool produces interactive, animated graphics using the four available chart formats.

Gapminder is a visualization software package created by a Swedish Foundation to help enliven and disseminate freely available social science data using animated, interactive graphs.

Gapminder is powered by a software called Trendalyzer (which is owned and licensed by Google) and comes with a staggering range of data collected worldwide (519 datasets as of 6 August 2014), on subjects from national economies to AIDS.

It is also possible to use Gapminder to display data over a map so the statistical changes can be seen geographically. However, it has a limited ability to upload and visualize private datasets (possibly via the use of Google Docs) with certain functionalities (e.g. map) not supported.

Tableau Public (available on Surreysoftware)
Tableau Public is a free desktop tool for generating interactive data visualization, graphs and reports onto the Internet. You can use this application to analyse any type of structured dataset, and can publish the work to Tableau Public web servers where they will be readily accessible to the general public.

Tableau Public is an advanced desktop tool for people who don’t have programming skills but still want to create highly interactive data visualisations on the web. It offers a ‘visual data window’ that allows you to connect different data sources by simply pointing and clicking. You can also apply various filters before exporting the data. Tableau Public can connect to Microsoft Excel, Microsoft Access, and multiple text file formats but has a limit of 1,000,000 rows of data in any single file.

The published data saved to Tableau Public is accessible by the general public but you can remove your content later if needed. There are also paid versions of Tableau software, namely Tableau Personal and Tableau Professional, that allow you to save your visualization works locally.

Most of the tools discussed here use publicly available datasets for generating the visualisations and graphs. When using a tool that allows you to upload your own data collection, for instance Tableau Public, you need to consider if these are any restrictions on those data being hosted on a public server.


3 thoughts on “Thing 13: Making information beautiful

  1. I am trying to download the Tableau Desktop Public Edition, but in order for the program to make changes to my computer I need to input an administrator name and password? Have tried my surrey login details but no luck. Has anyone else had this problem?


    • Hi More fun less stuff, I am sorry about this, it worked on my personal laptop but that does not have the rules set by the University about what you can and cant download. Annoyingly, I cant seem to get my Surrey computer to download it as it needs a University admin password. I will get in touch with Univeristy IT and see what they say but until then the best bet is a non-University computer.


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